Earth has many resources for humans to survive and thrive. Some resources, such as water, wind and sun, are abundant and nonrenewable. Others, such as petroleum and natural gas, are available in limited quantities and are considered nonrenewable. As technology develops and fossil fuels dwindle, cleaner renewable power is becoming a more viable option for electricity every day.
Nonrenewable resources cannot be replenished through conservation or production effords. According to Prentice Hall's guide to Earth's resources, nonrenewable resources "include coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power." Nonrenewable resources must be conserved for future use because there is no reasonable way for humans to produce more.
Coal, oil and natural gas are fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are formed in Earth over a period of roughly 300 million years. According to the University of Michigan's guide to fossil fuels, petroleum can be synthesized into a variety of fuels, including kerosene, gasoline and diesel. In a controlled laboratory environment, coal can be used to synthesize methane gas.
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Renewable resources include water, solar, wind and biomass-based power. Though a finite amount of water exists on the planet, local conservations efforts can relieve water shortages within a short period of time. Since the resources can be significantly replenished through human effort, they are considered to be renewable.
Switchgrass is a fast-growing grass that produces high amounts of thermal energy, called BTUs, when burned. The U.S. Department of Energy believes that with developing technology that converts plant matter into fuels such as usable gasoline and diesel, switchgrass can supply a reliable source of cleaner, renewable energy.
The Department of Engergy also theorizes that the production of switchgrass will grow enough plant matter to offset some of the pollution caused by burning fuels. Though technology to convert switchgrass into fuel is still developing, burning switchgrass already offers a cleaner-burning alternative to burning fossil fuels.
Solar power is a hot ticket in the environmental community because it is a completely clean source of energy. According to the DOE, solar power is harnessed in one of two ways. Solar power can be used to heat water and air for household use. Solar power also can be collected using solar cells arranged in panels. Solar panels convert solar energy directly to electricity, which then can be used like any other electric power. Since solar power is mostly collected during the day, systems relying solely on solar power must have a way to store the energy for use during dim days or at night.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, wind power is a clean source of energy that is gathered by harnessing the movement of the wind with windmills or turbines. A disadvantage to wind power is its sporadic nature. Since the patterns of wind cannot be predicted with total accuracy, a power storage mechanism or alternate power source is needed for reliable power.